FETC: 3 schools achieve STEM excellence despite COVID

Normal West High School, Lanier High School and Berkner STEM Academy named as schools of STEM excellence
By: | February 5, 2021
Aeronautics and aviation is one of several pathways that prepare students for careers at Berkner STEM Academy in Richardson ISD outside Dallas.Aeronautics and aviation is one of several pathways that prepare students for careers at Berkner STEM Academy in Richardson ISD outside Dallas.

Educators in three innovative districts have developed online innovations to keep students engaged in hands-on, career-focused STEM projects despite the shift to remote instruction.

Normal West High School in Illinois, Lanier High School in Georgia and Berkner STEM Academy outside Dallas showed off their initiatives at the 2021 Future of Education Technology Conference®, as part of the STEM Excellence: Best Practices session sponsored by State Farm.

Here are some snapshots of their projects.

Normal West High School

Normal West High School, part of McLean County Unit 5 in central Illinois, has a four-year  computer science program in which students complete increasingly advanced projects.


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Students take some courses at nearby Heartland Community College and can graduate high school with an associate’s degree in computer science, says David Weber, the high school’s STEM coordinator and a science teacher.

Since COVID has driven a significant amount of the work online, students have been creating apps that address some of the challenges of COVID. One group, for example, has begun developing mental health and time management apps.

“Students have identified that their peers are dealing with mental health issues as we’re stuck at home and feeling more alone,” Weber says.

Another team is recoding a school esports apps to make it more relevant and user-friendly.

The online collaboration has helped students developed business skills such as sending calendar invites and following up on emails, he says.

“We have learned a really important lesson of controlling the things we can control,” he says.

Lanier High School

Students in Lanier High School‘s STEM program focus on computer science and robotics through they also study biology, chemistry and other traditional STEM subjects.

Watch virtual FETC 2021

You can watch the STEM excellence presentation until the end of February. Click here.

The school, part of Gwinnett County Public Schools near Atlanta, offers a computer science honor society as well as girls-in-tech initiative, says Mike Reilly, founder of  Lanier’s Center of Design and Technology.

The program is heavily based on project-based learning, which, even in remote settings, teaches kids to work on teams and get some them engaged in real-world projects that impact their school or community, Reilly says.

Inspired the Schoolhouse Rock educational cartoons, students have been producing chemistry lessons on TikTok and Instagram.


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“We’re still tyring to look at the pandemic as an opportunity see an unusual situation as an unusual opportunity for our kids,” Reilly says.

Berkner STEM Academy

The school, part of Richardson ISD outside Dallas, offers several college-and-career-oriented pathways, including aviation and aeronautics where students use drones and flight simulators in preparation for earning a pilot’s license.

Students in the biotech and health science pathway use forensics kits to investigate mock crime scenes and have also been analyzing DNA to study how viruses are transmitted.

Other pathways include cybersecurity and digital media production.


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